On Saturday, the National Federation of the Blind’s nationwide protest against Goodwill Industries made it to Kansas where local advocacy groups protested in front of the company’s Wichita location. Leonard Silkey Jr., an NFB member and former Goodwill employee, was there because he experienced firsthand the injustice of people with disabilities making less than minimum wage at the secondhand retailer:
“It is a matter of self-respect even to the mentally challenged that they are paid a wage that says your work is worth something,” said Silkey Jr., president of the organization’s South Central Kansas chapter.
It’s a message close to his heart. About eight years ago, Silkey Jr. worked alongside other people with disabilities at a Goodwill Industries store in Tulsa, Okla.
“Some of them were working for less than four dollars an hour, others for less than three,” Silkey Jr. said.
According to the NFB, Goodwill Industries of Kansas is one of 64 entities out of 165 nationwide that do not guarantee minimum wage for employees with disabilities. Advocates and members of the community gathered together to protest Goodwill’s use of the Special Minimum Wage Certificate under Section 14c of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
“We believe this is an unfair discriminatory and immoral provision in the Fair Labor Standards Act. We want it removed,” said Tom Page, 1st Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind Kansas South Central Kansas chapter. “It’s been around for a long time and we feel now is the time to bring it to an end.”
Goodwill Industries argues that this legislation only affects a small number of Goodwill Employees. Section 14c allows employers to pay a piece rate based on production levels. They insist that the Section 14c workers often have severe disabilities and that 12 percent of workers are subject to this pay scale:
“Goodwill is only one of many, many organizations that hire people with disabilities that use that 14c so that we can hire people with disabilities and give them the opportunity to earn a wage,” said Gayle Goetz, Vice President of Career Services for Goodwill Industries of Kansas.
While it is noble to help the disabled find employment, NFB that nobility is undercut by the wage slam. Section 14c is intended to enable workers who would otherwise be turned away due to lack of production to find work in some capacity. As Silkey Jr. laments, though, this premise is dated:
“It’s not a good idea now,” Silkey Jr. said. “We live in an enlightened world and it’s time we prove it.”